Egg industry representatives have called on EU officials to extend a 12-week derogation to free-range marketing laws while birds continue to be housed to combat avian influenza.
Is there a future for free-range poultry flocks?
British flocks were ordered inside by Defra veterinary officials on 6 December to cut the risk of H5N8 avian influenza from migrating wild birds.
The marketing derogation - allowing eggs from outdoor flocks to continue to be sold as free-range during the emergency housing period - was triggered at the same time.
However, the derogation only persists for 12 weeks and will expire for GB flocks on 28 February.
British Egg Industry Council chief executive Mark Williams explained that with H5N8 cases still emerging housing measures will be in place beyond the 28 February deadline.
What happens to free-range if the derogation is not extended?
“If the derogation is not extended while the housing order remains, free-range eggs will have to be reclassified as barn eggs,” Mr Williams explained.
“This will incur huge costs to producers, practical difficulties and potential confusion to consumers,” he said.
Mr Williams pressed those points with the EU agriculture commissioner Philip Hogan during high-level discussions in Brussels on 30 January.
Mr Williams, who is also secretary-general of the EU Wholesale with Eggs, Egg Products and Poultry and Game (EUWEP) said commissioner Hogan had been receptive to the calls but no decision had been made on extending the derogation.
“Commissioner Hogan understood that the loss of premium, from €0.09 for free range to €0.07 for barn eggs, would cause huge losses for outdoor flock keepers whose fixed costs would remain the same.
“He also understood the practical difficulties of re-labelling packaging and the potential confusion to consumers.”
Commissioner Hogan is now considering the position and will make an announcement shortly, Mr Williams added.
Meanwhile contingency plans are being put in place in case the commissioner decides against the call for an extension, he said.
“We have to look ahead and are progressing with plans to develop stickers that can be applied to free range egg packaging, informing consumers of the temporary production methods,” Mr Williams added.